As the “nuclear family” is redefined in our society it is paramount to make sure that you are fully aware of your rights and the rights of your partner should you decide to terminate your relationship. With more people choosing to remain unmarried but raise children together, the lines of balance can blur when dealing with parental and financial responsibilities. There are pieces of relatively new legislation put in place with the aim of making sure the child is best provided for and that both parents, should they choose, have equal opportunity to contribute parentally and financially to the best possible upbringing for their children.
The point of the legislation is to improve and define the rights of children in line with our country’s Constitution. Part of what this legislation aims to do, is to define parental responsibilities and rights.
When the legislation was being drafted, experts used as their framework something called “The Best Interests of the Child Standard.” This means that in all matters concerning the care, protection and wellbeing of a child, the child’s best interests is of paramount importance – more so than the rights of the parent.
In laymen’s terms:
- A child, male or female, becomes a major upon reaching 18.
- The biological mother of a child has full parental responsibility of the child, whether she’s married or unmarried.
- The biological father of a child has full parental responsibility of the child if he’s married to the child’s mother or if he was married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s conception, birth or any time between the child’s conception and birth.
- An unmarried biological father may ask a court of law to grant him full parental responsibilities if he:
- at the time of the child’s birth, is living with the mother in a permanent life partnership, or
- consents to be identified as the child’s father, or
- successfully applies to be identified as the child’s father, or
- pays damages in terms of Customary Law, or
- contributes or has tried to contribute to the child’s maintenance and upbringing for a reasonable period.
What does this mean?
It doesn’t matter whether the parents are married and they conceive a child, or, whether they marry after conception and before the birth of a child: they’re both equally responsible for that child. Nothing has changed as regards the law concerning minor children.
Full parental responsibilities and rights
In legal terms, what does the phrase “full parental responsibilities and rights” actually mean and include?
- The responsibility and right to care for the child;
- To maintain contact with the child;
- To act as guardian of the child;
- To contribute to the maintenance of the child.
When a child’s parents are not married, the mother remains the primary caregiver of the child and the father can apply for rights if he complies with one of the requirements mentioned above. Again, the natural father of a child born of unmarried parents still has to pay maintenance for a child under 18 years if age, whether he wants to or not.
This applies regardless of whether the child was born before or after the commencement of the new Act.